Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a 2012 acclaimed comedy play written by the American playwright, actor and screenwriter Christopher Durang (b. 1949). Already in the next year after its world premiere, the play was accoladed with a prestigious Tony Award for the best play. In addition, just after its Off-Broadway and Broadway productions, the play was praised by the audiences and critics alike, which initiated the play’s victorious march onto theatre stages worldwide. In the playbill, Nejc Gazvoda points out the following: “It is a first-class comedy, full of wit and bravura, exploiting virtually all nuances of humour and full register of comedy, and yet remains – as the title alludes – essentially Chekhovian in its character, permeated with yearning, and a distinctive cathartic ending, which evokes either tear of joy or sadness.”
The story begins in a typically rural setting, in a Chekhovian homestead, where we find the lonely middle-aged gay man Vanya, and his sister Sonia, also a single middle-aged woman, who never stops reminding everyone that she was adopted, how all the luck has abandoned her, and that she never experienced love. Reflecting on their lost chances, the siblings spend their days debating what the future holds for them. The maid Cassandra occasionally interrupts their seemingly heartfelt and bittersweet bickering about their fates. In addition to her spicy comments, she never ceases to lament the name that was supposedly given to her because nobody would believe her prophecies.
The arrival of Masha, the only family member who has managed to succeed in the world as a theatre and movie star – even though her glow seems to be slowly fading – stirs up the family dynamics. Masha’s younger lover, himself a wannabe actor, only intensifies the already overheated domestic atmosphere with his preening and offensive outbursts of self-admiration. When it seems things cannot get any worse, yet another interloper arrives, in this case, Nina, a girl of similar age to Spike and ardent admirer of Masha and her work. Nina, too, is an aspiring actress who provokes envy in Masha, lust in Spike, and sympathy in Vanya. After a costume party at an important house in the neighbourhood, the relation(ship)s begin to deteriorate, and once petty tragedies now explode into mass devastation.
In her article Completely (Un)known Family Story, or Waiting For – a Heron, the dramaturg Željka Udovičić Pleština makes the following observation: “Durang himself says: ‘My play is not a Chekhov parody … I take Chekhov scenes and characters and put them into a blender.’ Because of this, Vanya, Masha, Sonia and Nina, and Spike as an opposing character to their world, are all deeply grounded in our time; they yearn for much-need illusions, for an illusion of happiness that is being uncompromisingly denied to us by this anti-age. Of course, one can say the play is a quality and original work, which can – if staged appropriately – spark interest in those who are not familiar with the work of Chekhov or even Aeschylus, who lent the name of Cassandra to Durang’s cleaning maid with the same gift of prophecy.”
In the interview with Nejc Gazvoda, the Bosnian director Dino Mustafić explained his views of the play: “I love intelligent comedies, I don’t direct them as often as I’d like, because they are tough to find in contemporary playwrighting, which is also the reason why I often resort to the good old classics. Wit is an expression of spirit and intelligence, and sensitivity to humour interests me more when socialising than any other character trait. I appreciate people with a capacity for self-irony, black humour or grotesque, which one can find in abundance in this play.”